Carrying Precious Cargo

Books written for every scenario.  Blogs available for late-night meltdowns.  You’re covered at every corner as a parent-to-be and once you become one.  Or at least it seems like you are, until you have to install The Car Seat.

By the time you’re making one of the most important purchases for your new baby, you might be waddling down the aisles of Buy Buy Baby.  You might be overheated from the scorching summer sun and sick of carrying around a bottle of water with you all the time.  You may have been harping on your husband, your sister, or your mom over some overly-pregnant, overly-sensitive moment.  And you just want to find the right freaking car seat!

(One of my friends had this scenario at some point.  Time has a funny was of helping us suppress.  We now reminisce over wine and laughter.  The best therapy.)

If you rushed through the purchase…. or were at the other end of the spectrum (like me) where you gingerly picked out the seat with the matching stroller and attachment, car seat bases, and sun cover online before you went to actually purchase that car seat… it doesn’t matter now.  My City Mini is long gone (thanks DFW airport thief.)

All that is left is the ghosts of car seats past (that now my youngest has inherited) and new booster seats for my oldest who graduated to a big-kid seat in the last nine months.

Those seats are the source of the issue in this post.  A thorn in our sides that’s supposed to be a savior.

We haven’t been installing them correctly.



I promise I’m not passing judgement.  It’s a fact.

Kimberly Scwind with AAA of Ohio lays it out for us.

“The industry standard is that about three quarters of seats are installed incorrectly or misused. That means, we only find about a quarter of seats that come in without any misuse. Child safety seats are complicated, so parents and caregivers shouldn’t feel bad about asking someone to double check their installation.”

I always thought that fire stations could check seat installations for you, but my husband found out that wasn’t the case at a local fire station with our firstborn Logan.  Schwind explained that many departments lost their funding for the service so they don’t do the checks anymore.

We ended up installing our car seats on our own, following the directions (we thought), and fortunately haven’t had any problems.

But I found out this week— we did it WRONG.

AAA started checking child passenger seats about a year ago at their store locations.  They now have certified technicians that can look at your car in the parking lot and show you what’s been installed improperly.  30 locations now have a tech on hand at all times! Anyone can make an appointment to get a check, you don’t have to be a AAA member.  It’s free.  It takes about half an hour per seat to make sure everything is installed correctly.

“Safety is something that is at our core, and we had a saw a huge gap in our Child Passenger Safety offerings. We could point people to websites, and direct them to locations to get their seats checked, but we didn’t offer a service to parents and caregivers to help them with this very important safety measure,” Schwind explained.

So the boys and I loaded into the car to do one thing earlier this week:  get those seats checked.

Every seat and every vehicle is different, but the techs know what to look for when inspecting the seat installation. They also have handy guides like this that will tell them down to the exact specifications what a car seat should look like in your make and model of car.


I’ve had some car seat issues that I knew weren’t normal.  Logan’s booster seat was too hard to buckle into place.  It sometimes took me two minutes to get it to work.  My husband suggested it was operator error.  The techs had not run into that before– but the LATCH manual helped them target the problem.



It turns out once the lower anchors were tightened by these two pulls below, we were able to solve the problem.



It takes me two seconds to buckle him in now.

As for Christian’s seat, we were putting him at risk for a neck injury and didn’t know it.  His seat was buckled through the back like it should be and barely moved from side-to-side.   It was tight. (They’re only supposed to be able to move one inch and no more.)  But the anchor on the back of the seat was not installed behind the headrest.



And the straps on the Graco Nautilus that we’ve had since Logan was in it, were extremely twisted.  They also were hitting him in the wrong place.  We ended up taking the straps apart.


So– now that you know what I found, time for your check?

Parents, grandparents– really anyone who takes kids anywhere should get this done.

Here’s a list of locations and phone numbers where the AAA stores are that have the free service.

This post is timely because Saturday is National Seat Check Saturday. AAA is working with the Delaware General Health District to hold a car seat check event from 9 a.m. until 12 p.m.  If you want information on this you can also go to this link.

“We want to make sure people know that this is an educational experience. We are not installing the seat for you and letting you drive away. Instead, we are looking at the seat, reviewing everything we find, and walking you through the process of installing it correctly. The goal is that you leave knowing how to install your seat and harness your child correctly every single time.”

It honestly was the most I learned this week– the kids and I went to grab breakfast for dinner after the whole check and they were still chatting about it over pancakes.

I took a deep breath over my afternoon coffee and was just happy I figured something out– that I didn’t know was even a big problem.

I am so very, very grateful for this lesson.